The Denver Green School (DGS) has the most intentional system of distributed authority of any school I visited. A public, non-charter school in the Denver Public School system, DGS was conceived and founded by seven “partners”, a group of veteran educators with a combined 150 years of teaching and administrative experience. Since it’s inception a few years ago, the school has added three more partners and will continue to add partners as teachers rise to the level of interest and commitment of the founders. Three of the founders act, as a group, like the traditional principal, taking care of basic administrative functions. On paper, they are lead partners and act as a collaborative team, seeking to constantly distribute leadership responsibilities and grow the capacities of an ever expanding group of teacher leaders. One of their expressed goals is that as teachers join the group of partners and gain experience with this management style, they will feel confident enough to spin off and start their own school under the Denver Innovation Schools program.
DGS has addressed one of the critical weaknesses of all knowledge based organizations: the weak link at the top. Especially in start-ups, the energy demanded to get an organization up and running is ridiculous, and burnout is a real threat. If the vision and leadership are concentrated in just one person, it only takes one point of failure to put the organization at risk. Sometimes this means real failure; sometimes it just slows down what had been great progress. DGS is run by a true partnership of intellectual equals who are committed to ensuring long term sustainability by designing out the weak link. At an operational level, the management structure has trickled down. DGS is a democratic, teacher-led organization that fosters-in fact, demands-open inquiry and exploration from the adults. Everyone is expected not only to contribute to the overall success of the school, but to lead that success, as well as to be effective in their own classroom.
Throughout this book I have referenced schools I visited that I believe can provide examples of a transformed learning experience. In this section I have synthesized the empirical evidence from many schools into a holistic model of best evolving practices. Since the end of my trip I have been asked many times, “Which school is the most innovative? Which should be our model? Who is doing it all?
I hope the reader will look to the many specific examples I have cited in the previous chapters. I hope that the many schools I did and did not visit that are piloting marvelous programs will not take offense if I try to answer that question.
Three public and two private schools that I visited stand out as examples of schools that have adopted many attributes of the evolving learning ecosystem discussed in this chapter. There are many other outstanding examples I did not visit.
Denver Green School
The unique governance structure upon which the public Denver Green School (DGS) is built would make it an exemplar, even if the academic program were not also a model of ecosystem learning. DGS has created a system of distributed leadership among the adults and students that amplifies nimble decision making and promotes all members of the community as educational leaders. Teachers focus on their own growth and that of their colleagues; students contribute to the main learning themes in an interdisciplinary environment that celebrates true diversity of perspective and thinking; the boundaries between “school” and “community” are increasingly blurred. By empowering many leaders, the school serves as an incubator for those leaders to grow develop and then go out and leverage their knowledge across other learning environments.